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Posts Tagged ‘inventors

“Everything around us is scale dependent. It’s woven into the fabric of the universe.”*…

 

What do you, your town, and your employer all have in common? Scalability. According to physicist Geoffrey West, there are mathematical principles that govern the growth and longevity of complex organisms, crowded cities, and even corporations…

A fascinating interview with West about his new book, Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies: “What Do Organisms, Crowded Cities, and Corporations Have in Common?

See West talk about his work in a the Long Now Seminar.

[TotH to @jhagel]

* Geoffrey West

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As we get small, we might send illuminated birthday greetings to John Walker; he was born on this date in 1781.  A chemist from Stockton-on-Tees, Walker invented friction matches in 1827; he had accidentally discovered their “secret” the prior year when he mixed potassium chlorate and antimony sulfide, which he bound to a sulphur-coated stick (with gum).

He recorded the first sale as “Sulphurata Hyper-Oxygenata Frict,” but by the second sale (five months later), he was getting the hang of naming: “friction lights.”  He sold them in boxes of 50 for a shilling, with a folded slip of sandpaper as a striking surface.  He ultimately trade-named them “Congreves,” in honor of Sir William Congreve, known for his invention of military rockets.

A tin Congreves matchbox (1827)

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Written by LW

May 29, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future”*…

 

Robot-assisted farming

It’s easy to chuckle at the prognostications of yore– where’s my jet pack?!?  But as long-time readers will recall, there was one writer whose predictions were uncannily on the money:  Jules Verne.

His Paris in the 20th Century, for example, describes air conditioning, automobiles, the Internet, television, even electricity, and other modern conveniences very similar to their real world counterparts, developed years– in many cases, decades– later.   From the Earth to the Moon, apart from using a space gun instead of a rocket, is uncannily similar to the real Apollo Program: three astronauts are launched from the Florida peninsula– from “Tampa Town” ( only 130 miles from NASA’s Cape Canaveral)– and recovered through a splash landing.  And in other works, he predicted helicopters, submarines, projectors, jukeboxes, and the existence of underwater hydrothermal vents that were not invented/discovered until long after he wrote about them.

Verne’s writings caught the imagination of his countrymen.  As Singularity Hub reports,

Starting in 1899, a commercial artist named Jean-Marc Côté and other artists were hired by a toy or cigarette manufacturer to create a series of picture cards as inserts, according to Matt Noval who writes for the Smithsonian magazine. The images were to depict how life in France would look in a century’s time, no doubt heavily influenced by Verne’s writings. Sadly, they were never actually distributed. However, the only known set of cards to exist was discovered by Isaac Asimov, who wrote a book in 1986 called “Futuredays” in which he presented the illustrations with commentary…

In what some French people might consider an abomination, one illustration depicted the modern kitchen as a place of food science. While synthetic food in commercial products is sadly more common today than we’d like to admit (sorry Easy Cheese lovers, but I’m calling you out), the rise of molecular gastronomy in fine dining has made food chemistry a modern reality. It may seem like food science has its limitations, but one only needs to consider efforts to grow meat in a laboratory to see how far technology may go…

“Food Science”

See them all at “19th Century Artists Predicted the Future in This Series of Postcards.”

[A re-post, inspired by this piece in Upworthy.]

* Niels Bohr

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As we console ourselves that, while the future may be another country, we may still speak the language, we might recall that it was on this date in 1888 that William Seward Burroughs of St. Louis, Missouri, received patents on four adding machine applications (No. 388,116-388,119), the first U.S. patents for a “Calculating-Machine” that the inventor would continue to improve and successfully market.  The American Arithmometer Corporation of St. Louis, later renamed The Burroughs Corporation, became– with IBM, Sperry, NCR, Honeywell, and others– a major force in the development of computers.  Burroughs also gifted the world his grandson, Beat icon William S. Burroughs.

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“One can never read too little of bad, or too much of good books”*…

 

Just in time for summer reading…

Goldman Sachs: financial giant, hotbed of enthusiasm for subprime mortgages, and hapless recipient of your hard-earned money. Who better to tell you what to read?

Well, now they are telling you what to read, in the form of a recently-published recommended book list. We’re talking about people who incurred $550 million in fines for schemes to turn a profit on the civilization-threatening financial crisis they themselves had helped create, and the line between genius and chutzpah is notoriously hard to draw, so, yeah, I’d like to know what’s on these folks’ bedside tables.

First things first, and no big shock: they’re really into capitalism…

More at “Don’t know what to read? Let Goldman Sachs tell you.”  The list is here.

[Image above, sourced here]

* Arthur Schopenhauer

As we pack for the beach, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that Sylvan Goldman introduced the first shopping cart in his Humpty Dumpty grocery store in Oklahoma City.

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Written by LW

June 4, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Our inventions mirror our secret wishes”*…

 

Try your hand at recognizing products from the diagrams, like the one above, submitted with their patent applications: from the collection in the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, “Can You Guess the Invention Based on These Patent Illustrations?

* Lawrence Durrell

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As we turn up the tinkering, we might spare a thought for Freelan Oscar Stanley; he died on this date in 1940.  Working with his twin brother Francis, Stanley developed (in 1883) a dry plate photographic process, and started the very successful Stanley Dry Plate Company (sold to Eastman Kodak in 1905).

But Stanley and his brother are bettered remembered for their second enterprise, the Stanley Motor Company. The brothers began working on steam powered cars in 1897, and built thousands of them them until the 1920s.  At racing events, The Stanley Steamer often competed successfully against gasoline powered cars; indeed, in 1906, it set a world record for fastest mile (28.2 seconds, at a speed of 127 mph).

It’s worth observing that Freelan Stanley shares his passing date with Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, who died on this date in 1804.  In 1769, Cugnot, a military engineer, invented the world’s first fuel-propelled vehicle–a gun tractor commissioned by the French government.  The following year he produced the first mechanically-driven “horseless carriage”; his steam tricycle, driven by a steam engine, carried four passengers and was the forerunner of the modern motor car– and more specifically, of the Stanley Brothers’ Steamers.

The Stanley Twins, Freelan back/right

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Written by LW

October 2, 2015 at 1:01 am

“We face neither East nor West; we face forward”*…

 

To the Western mind, “African Electronics,” the theme of this year’s annual Chale Wote street art festival in Ghana’s capital, might conjure up images of social media revolutions, telecommunications giants, farmers using smartphones, or other “tech solutions” to development. Not for artist Serge Attukwei Clottey.

Serge, like most artists participating at Chale Wote, views African Electronics as a call for African empowerment, and celebration of the innovation and energy which has been flowing through the continent for centuries. This was ever present throughout a festival that saw examples of both traditional and contemporary art forms: from colorful wall murals to performance art, interactive installations to stand alone sculptures, traditional drummers to electronic music DJs…

More at “‘African Electronics’ Takes a Spiritual Approach to Individual Power.” (Serge Attukwei Clottey will exhibit his performance installation, The Displaced, at Feuer Mesler gallery in Manhattan in October 2015.)

* Kwame Nkrumah

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As we agree with Jaron Lanier that “You Are Not A Gadget,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1888 that Granville Tailer Woods– the first African-American electrical engineer working n the U.S. after the Civil War, whose many inventions (and 50 patents) earned him the moniker “the Black Edison”– patented the Multiplex Telegraph, a device that sent messages between train stations and moving trains, thus assuring a safer, better public transportation system.

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Written by LW

August 28, 2015 at 1:01 am

“You cannot NOT have a user experience”*…

 

Q: I’ve heard people use UI and UX interchangeably. I thought I knew the difference, but now I’m confused. Can you please clarify this once and for all? 

Of course I can. And I can do it using the Presto Hot Dogger. Obviously.

When I was a kid, my brothers and I talked my mom into buying us a hot dog cooking machine. Don’t laugh. This was the 70s, when instant coffee was considered a miracle. The way the Hot Dogger worked was simple. There was a tray with two rows of spikes on either side that slid into a heating element. You impaled the hot dog into the corresponding spike on each side, completing the electrical circuit, and this “cooked” the hot dog. Cooking is a strong word here, as the hot dogs were actually being electrocuted. (Hot dogs contain an insane amount of metal, by the way.) We were thrilled to make our hot dogs this way.

So, what I just described — the spikes, the heating element, the electrocuting — that’s the user interface. Or UI, for short. And I’m sure that the good folks at Presto tested that user interface many times over until they had it just right. I’m sure they tested the proper width of the tray to fit the majority of hot dogs and wieners being made in the USA at the time. I’m sure they tested the force needed to close the tray, maybe even with a robot arm! They probably even tested the visibility of the smoky transparent plastic that allowed you to see your hot dogs being electrocuted, and how much of it you’d want to see.

Now here’s the thing. When you give three boys an appliance that electrocutes meat in an era before their boredom could be diffused with video games and cable, it immediately becomes the most interesting thing in the house. And they start wanting to have experiences. The hunger to electrocute things far outlasted the hunger for hot dogs. And it wasn’t long before we started looking for other things that fit in the Hot Dogger™.

Here’s an incomplete list of items we tried:

  • bananas (not enough metal)
  • chicken drumsticks (worked, albeit slowly)
  • Steak-umm (turned to liquid)
  • forks (sparks, small fire)
  • a condom we found on the street (the smell lasted for weeks)
  • aluminum foil (yep. Aluminum bridges solved our Steak-umm problem. )

We were having user experiences…

Learn more (including why trash bins are exactly 25 feet from hot dog stands at Disneyland) from Mike Monteiro, Design Director at Mule Design, in “How 70s appliances can explain the difference between UX and UI.”

* Lou Carbone

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As we put our appliances through their paces, we might spare a thought for an inventor and designer of an earlier period, Garrett Morgan; he died on this date in 1963.  He patented a traffic signal (which he sold to GE for commercial exploitation).  He also developed (among many other inventions) the gas mask, which he used to rescue miners who were trapped underground in a noxious mine in 1914– though soon after, he was asked to produce gas masks for the US Army.  It was based in part on his 1912 creation, a safety hood and smoke protector for firefighters.

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Written by LW

August 27, 2015 at 1:01 am

“You can’t criticize geometry. It’s never wrong.”*…

 

In the world of mathematical tiling, news doesn’t come bigger than this.  In the world of bathroom tiling – I bet they’re interested too.

If you can cover a flat surface using only identical copies of the same shape leaving neither gaps nor overlaps, then that shape is said to “tile the plane.” Every triangle can tile the plane. Every four-sided shape can also tile the plane.

Things get interesting with pentagons. The regular pentagon cannot tile the plane. (A regular pentagon has equal side lengths and equal angles between sides, like, say, a cross section of okra, or, erm, the Pentagon). But some non-regular pentagons can.

The hunt to find and classify the pentagons that can tile the plane has been a century-long mathematical quest, begun by the German mathematician Karl Reinhardt, who in 1918 discovered five types of pentagon that do tile the plane…

Pentagons remain the area of most mathematical interest when it comes to tilings since it is the only of the ‘-gons’ that is not yet totally understood…

Read the whole story– and see all 15 types of pentagonal tilings discovered so far– at “Attack on the pentagon results in discovery of new mathematical tile.”

* Paul Rand

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As we grab the grout, we might recall that it was on this date in 1953, after a year of experimentation, that marine engineer and retired semi-pro baseball player David Mullany, Sr. invented the Wiffleball.  (He patented it early the following year.)  Watching his 13-year-old son play with a broomstick and a plastic golf ball ball in the confines of their backyard, Mullany worried that the effort to throw a curve would damage his young arm.  So he fabricated a full- (baseball-)sized ball from the plastic used in perfume packaging, with oblong holes on one side… a ball that would naturally curve.  The balls had the added advantage, given their light weight, that they’d not break windows.

David Jr. came up with the name: he was fond of saying that he had “whiffed” the batters that he struck out with his curves.  The “h” was dropped, the name trademarked, and (after Woolworth’s adopted the item) a generation of young ballplayers– and their parents– converted.

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Written by LW

August 14, 2015 at 1:01 am

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